VOL. 125 | NO. 122 | Thursday, June 24, 2010
Memphis Researchers Enter World of High Speed
By Tom Wilemon
A scientist researching new antibiotic therapies brought 10-gigabit-per-second technology to life with a “little movie of a molecule” Tuesday for the inauguration of the Memphis Coalition for Advanced Networking (MCAN).
Economic and scientific leaders watched as a brightly colored computer graphic showed how a molecule targeted an essential enzyme for bacteria to reproduce. The scientific experiment occurred at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, but a super computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in East Tennessee produced the graphic.
MCAN links the city’s universities and scientific institutions with Oak Ridge and other research centers. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development provided a $3 million grant to set up the network that enables data to travel 3,000 times faster than typical broadbands.
Matt Kisber, commissioner of the state agency, said Gov. Phil Bredesen quickly recognized the value of establishing such a network.
“We can’t rely on strong backs as we have in the past,” Kisber said. “We have to rely on strong minds and technology to grow our economy.”
MCAN is a nonprofit organization with four founding members: the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.
MCAN is looking to increase its membership, said Russell Ingram, the organization’s president and executive director. Besides pure research, the network can be used for other applications, including tele-education, tele-medicine, job training, public safety and utility smart-grid projects.
MCAN is part of a non-commodity network, which limits access to private sector, for-profit ventures. However, corporations and businesses can pursue research opportunities through joint ventures with Memphis universities and research institutions.
MCAN links into the Internet2 research network, a consortium of 200 universities, 70 leading corporations, 45 government agencies and 50 international partner organizations.
Researchers at St. Jude are using MCAN to communicate with Washington University in St. Louis on a project to sequence 1,200 human genomes. Clayton Naeve, the hospital’s chief information officer, said data that took more than three hours to transmit can be sent in a few minutes.
The sequencing project requires the production of 90 billion characters of information – which if printed out would fill 26 Memphis Pyramids.
William “Bill” Evans, chief executive officer of St. Jude, said the hospital’s researchers were excited about having easy access to the “world’s fastest computer” at Oak Ridge.
Research and communication involving visual records, video applications and other data transfers can also be transmitted over the system.
MCAN is one of about 35 regional optical networks in the nation. The network’s operations center is on the campus of the University of Memphis.
Shirley Raines, the president of the university, said it was fitting that the inauguration ceremony was taking place at an Innovation Drive address on campus.
“We’re here today to talk about a way to make innovation more of a way of life for us,” she said.
Rob Carter, the chief information officer of FedEx Corp., provided advice and assistance in setting up the network. Other key corporate partners included XO Communications, Cisco Systems and Pomeroy IT Solutions.